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Lindsey Graham's unfortunate beef with the word 'the'

"Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news," Lindsey Graham said, apparently unaware of what "Al" means in Arabic.
Lindsey Graham (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)
US Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham speaks during a US Senate Armed Services Committee on global challenges and US national security strategy on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Do you ever see a news headline and find yourself saying, out loud, "Uh oh"? This is not an uncommon occurrence at my desk, and just such an occasion happened this afternoon.
The Haaretz headline read, "Senator Lindsey Graham: Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Mideast is bad news." Like I said, uh oh.

"Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news," said U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina at an AIPAC dinner in Boston on Monday. "Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula," said the senator, who may be running for president. [...] The problem -- linguistically -- with Graham's comment is that "Al" is the definite article in Arabic (i.e. equivalent to English's "the"), and usually appears before most Arabic proper nouns, especially place and personal names.

Lindsey Graham is not without his folksy charms, and on Capitol Hill, the South Carolina Republican has developed a well-deserved reputation for being good humored.
But I'm going to hope that this is one joke Graham wishes he could take back.
Matt Yglesias noted the obvious problem of criticizing the frequent appearance of "al" in Arab countries, since even translating the words "United States of America" needs an "al" -- al-Wilayat al-Muttaḥidah al-Amrikiyah -- as does the word "algebra." From Matt's piece:

It's at least possible that Graham is so ignorant of foreign countries that he doesn't know this about Arabic -- although given his keen interest in foreign policy, and Middle East policy in particular, that's a bit damning. Alternatively, he maybe just wants to clarify that he thinks anything and everything coming from the Arab world is bad news.

It's not the first time Graham's attempts at humor have gotten into him trouble. Two months ago, the senator took a cheap shot at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- he later apologized -- and last month, the Republican lawmaker raised the prospect of creating an "all-Jewish cabinet" if elected in light of his financial supporters.